Passport Video's The Jack Benny Collection is a five-DVD set drawn principally from The Jack Benny Show -- his long-running television show -- and appended with The Medicine Man, Benny's rather offbeat 1930 big-screen acting debut. The print of the movie occupies disc one. The other four discs are comprised of the Benny television show, and these generally look better, as well as playing better as comedy, the latter consisting of Benny's usual stock-in-trade humor. Disc one opens with the January 1954 show featuring Liberace as guest star, and astonishingly, it still holds 60 years later, a tribute to the sheer ubiquitousness of Liberace's impact as a pop-culture star and Benny's brand of comedy. Two topical jokes, one involving the John Huston movie Moulin Rouge and another referring to Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio, still work as well; however, like most of the best jokes on Benny's show, the visual element is almost superfluous -- the man was a radio comedian, and his interactions with the popular pianist/personality work even better if you close your eyes (and the audio is clear and loud enough to permit one to do precisely that). The sight gags are not as well put together, though a few are funny. The shows on this disc come complete with their original commercials, including the singing spots for Lucky Strike cigarettes. The March 1954 show on the same disc does feature an opening sight gag involving Eddie "Rochester" Anderson that is worth seeing -- the guest stars are Bing Crosby and George Burns (who manages to work in an in-joke referring to his own show), and there's a side-splittingly funny cameo by Bob Hope. Disc two opens with the most famous of all Benny's programs, the 1954 show that featured Humphrey Bogart -- in his only variety show appearance -- as the guest star, in a sketch that was a parody of Detective Story. On disc three, in a show from 1959 (photographed by no less a figure than Hollywood cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca), the French singer Genevieve is the principal guest star, with Ed Sullivan as a special guest, in an acting role, no less, in one sketch, which includes a great comic vamp of a popular song. Disc four is devoted to a Christmas show from 1957 -- featuring Frank Nelson, Richard Deacon, Dennis Day (who sings "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"), Mel Blanc, and Benny Rubin -- and a 1961 New Year's Eve show. Disc five consists of a single Jack Benny Hour show from 1959 featuring the McGuire Sisters, Danny Thomas, and, best of all, and most unexpectedly, Raymond Burr as Perry Mason, trying to reclaim his time slot from the Jack Benny special -- it's a great bit, and nearly as funny as the McGuire Sisters are charming (and funny in a sketch with Benny). Most of the second half of the show is given over to an extended sketch featuring Benny and Thomas as owners of a combination bowling alley/restaurant. None of the discs in this set runs over 64 minutes, and four of them come to barely an hour, if that (commercials are missing from some of the programs). ~ Bruce Eder, All Movie Guide
Disc One contains:
- The Medicine Man - In this rarely seen 1930 melodrama, Jack (in his first starring role) plays a shady hawker of health tonics - good for whatever ails you. Along the way, he cons gullible men out of their money and romances the ladies.